The Arrogance Of Unforgiveness

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I grew up in an Irish family where one of our favorite jokes, statements and, I think for a period of time, refrigerator magnets was a quip about Irish Alzheimer’s.  If you haven’t heard it before, Irish Alzheimers is when you forget everything but the grudge.  It always made me laugh and, to be honest, feel a little vindicated.  I struggled with holding grudges for the same reason I struggle with sunburns and dancing…I’m Irish!  It’s incredibly convenient when we give ourselves ethnic exemptions for what the Bible calls sin.

It’s also incredibly destructive.

Unwillingness or inability to forgive turns our hearts into a breading ground for self-righteous anger, bitterness, and resentment.  It’s hard to accomplish anything meaningful in life when all you can think about is how you’ve been wronged and why God isn’t punishing that person the way you think He should.  The old adage really is true, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.

None of us set out to waste our lives by drinking the poison of unforgiveness.  It just happens because forgiving people is hard, especially when they’ve really hurt us.  But that’s what Jesus calls us to do, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)  Notice, “so you also must forgive”.  This isn’t optional.  It’s a command.

Here’s what I’ve learned about actually doing the hard work of forgiveness: My greatest obstacle to forgiveness isn’t my sense of justice.  It’s my pride.  The path to forgiveness is found in allowing the grace of God to melt my pride.  Here’s how it works.

(1)  Our forgiveness of others is rooted in God’s forgiveness of us.  I know just how much God has forgiven me of in my life.  I know that forgiveness was completely undeserved and totally motived by His grace.  I didn’t do anything to earn it nor can I do anything to pay Him back.  So, the forgiveness God calls us to in Colossians 3 is made possible by the forgiveness He offers us in Colossians 2, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14-15)  This is the essence of the gospel – my debts were nailed to a tree in the person of Jesus Christ so that I could be forgiven and made alive.  That’s grace!

(2)  Grace always kills pride.  When it comes to forgiving another Christian, we need to ask ourselves, “If the cross is enough for God to forgive this person, why isn’t it enough for me?”  Why do we feel like we need something more?  God didn’t.  And if the person we’re struggling to forgive isn’t a Christian, we can rest in the promise of Proverbs 11:21, “Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished“.  God deals with all injustice – either on the cross or in hell.

Jesus offers us a forgiveness that is so complete, so undeserved, and so permanent that it will melt the pride of our unforgiveness as we come to understand it.  In Christ, we not only find our forgiveness but also the power to forgive others.  So, lay your cup of poison at the foot of the cross and let grace do it’s transforming work.

The Beast of Bitterness

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Bitterness over the past will rob us of joy in the present and growth in the future.  God’s plans for today are too grand to thrive in the arid ground of bitterness.  If we’re going to maximize our contributions to this world, we need to cultivate a heart that releases all of our days to the sovereign goodness of Jesus.

Unfortunately, our flesh loves the taste of bitterness.  We love to dredge up past hurts, the sins of others and our own regrets.  We obsess over what should have happened and rant against what did.  All of our ranting, obsessing and dredging accomplishes nothing other than damaging our own souls.

When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.

-Psalm 73:21-22

All of our joy, hope and peace flow out of the gash in our souls created by the knife of bitterness.  We end up saying and doing dumb things.  We make bad decisions.  We’re irrational and brutish in our behavior.  All of which drives us deeper into bitterness.

Some say time heals all wounds.  Not true.  But Jesus does.

He pours the waters of grace over our bitterness and leads us to a better, more fruitful, place.  We escape the clutches of bitterness when we learn to take our eyes off the past and put them fully on Jesus.

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26

The hope of heaven is real for those of us in Christ.  We’re headed to a day when every sad thing becomes untrue.  Jesus is the joy of heaven and offers to be the source of our joy today.  God offers strength in our weakness.  He’s with us in the fiercest storms.  He guides.  He carries us through.

The gospel washes away bitterness.  But we need to choose.  Jesus, who heals all wounds.  Or one more day of the self inflicted torture of bitterness.